Communication With My Lawyer

The most common complaint clients have about their lawyers are typically in relation to communication with the lawyer regarding the case.  Indeed, when the State Bar of Georgia sanctions an attorney, many of those issues are related to poor communication or a lack of communication with the client.

As lawyers part of our ethical duties to our clients includes communication with the client regarding the case.  It may seem obvious, but if there is no communication between the lawyer and client, it is difficult to see how the representation will be effective.  That being said, some cases and issues require more communication than others.  How much communication?  How speedy should the response be?  Will my lawyer charge me for communication?  Email, telephone, text message or formal letters?

The amount of communication is that amount required to gather the necessary information from the client and for the lawyer to explain or express the status of the case. In the initial meeting between the lawyer and client most of the pertinent information should be gathered, but there are almost always follow up questions and the need to collect documents and things to fill in the gaps in information.

It is understandable that a client may want an answer and want it immediately, but this is not always realistically possible or required by ethical obligations.  For instance, when the lawyer is conducting a hearing at the courthouse, or in a deposition that lawyer cannot respond immediately. That being said, expecting a return call or email in 24-48 hours is reasonable.  If it is an emergency, then the client needs to make that clear in the correspondence, and if appropriate the client should contact medical professionals or law enforcement as the situation may demand..

Yes, except in contingency based representation, most lawyer bill for all of their time and expenses incurred in the case, which includes communication with the client.  That being said, many lawyers will not charge you for a very short and brief email response. Telephone calls may be treated differently because the lawyer is required to stop what he or she was already doing to take your call.  For standard communication I greatly prefer email to telephone calls for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost there is a written record of the communication, which serve as built in note keeping and record keeping regarding the case.  To be able to refer to a older email regarding some particular fact provided by the client is many times more reliable than reliance on handwritten notes jotted down during or after a telephone conversation.  Also, I can respond to emails without having to stop doing some other task I may be working on, unlike receiving a telephone call, as well as being able to respond to emails after normal working or office hours.

Telephone communication is fine for general communication, but for things of a more sensitive or important or detailed nature, it is best if the communication is in writing.  For scheduling appointments and things like that, telephone and text messaging it fine.  But when it comes to notification of a deadline for a response, or an upcoming court date or deposition date, or an offer to settle the case, these things need to be in writing.

Good lawyers strive to have good communication with their clients because they want to be well informed with all of the necessary information, to provide the best representation possible, and they want their clients to participate in the case and to be informed about the progress in the case, in short for the client to be happy with the representation they receive.